MEARS Auction #45, Ends December 29th, 2012, 9:00 CST
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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 12/30/2012


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As the most collected name in sports history, several extraordinary examples of Ruth bats have surfaced throughout our hobby’s history. Many of these top examples were cherished due to the iron clad provenance which accompanied them. For this lot, the provenance is unique, and very personal.

In this writer’s opinion this particular Ruth bat exhibits personalized game use traits which were documented as being orchestrated by the Babe and make this one of the most highly documented examples of Ruth bats known. On the bat’s sweet spot, directly above the facsimile barrel stamping, is an area (3”x10”) of scoring. The scoring was carefully applied in a very deliberate concentrated area. 100’s of small groves (scores) were applied from the application of a cow bone or a bottle top.

Several layers of scoring occurred, the results of an extended period of repeating application of the process. Babe scored his bat. This detailed, personal trait puts the bat directly into the hands of Babe Ruth during his earliest days as a New York Yankee. The dimensions (length & weight) when coupled with the scoring also support 1920-21 Yankees use. Memorabilia scholars rate this bat as a top 5 specimen of all known Ruth bats in the hobby due to the exceptional game use/player traits present.

The personal trait is a very specific practice of Babe Ruth that has been chronicled via newspaper accounts and photographic support. After examining the Ruthian dimensions of the bat, 36” and a whopping 44.6 ounces, the heavy use and the detailed, painstakingly applied scoring serves as a physical note of provenance provided by Ruth himself. In our opinion, all of the scoring was personally conducted at the hand of the Babe.

During the 1919 season it became clearly evident that Babe Ruth could hit. That season his time on the mound decreased significantly, Ruth pitched in only 17 of his 130 games. He also set his first single-season home run record that year with 29, including a game-winning homer on a September "Babe Ruth Day" promotion. Although still quite productive, it was Babe Ruth's last season with the Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was rumored to be suffering from financial difficulties, but the truth of the matter was Babe Ruth was becoming keenly aware of his current market value and had expressed his contract concerns with management. It was unlikely the Red Sox were going to be able to afford to sign him. Frazee refused Ruth’s demand of a $20,000 per year salary, and traded him to the New York Yankees for the agreed upon price of $125,000.

1920 - Babe Ruth swung a big bat and hit big home runs

On December 26, 1920, Babe Ruth signed the contract and became a New York Yankee. Ruth had an immediate impact on the team. For the first time in baseball history 1,000,000 fans paid to see major league baseball, all fueled by seeing Ruth at the Polo Grounds. Babe Ruth was emerging as the game’s biggest star.

During his first season in New York, he began to accomplish feats never before replicated in the history of the game. New records were being set on a daily basis. In order to put the magnitude of the feats in perfect context, we have listed highlights from the 1920 & 1921 seasons. Only by seeing the accomplishments in black and white can we appreciate the significance of their occurrence. Per the dating of this bat, the following milestones took place during its range of issuance:

(Compiled from the Baseball Fever Website, Babe Ruth thread)

May 1, 1920: According to the New York Times, “Babe Ruth hits his first home run as a Yankee. Again just as he did in 1919, he clears the roof at the Polo grounds and the ball lands in Manhattan field. Ruth has cleared the roof almost a dozen times since 1916, no one else has. Only one ball has landed on the roof, hit by Joe Jackson. Even the great Shoeless Joe Jackson could not clear the roof, Ruth did it routinely.

June 19, 1920: Babe Ruth hits his 12th homerun off Walter Johnson. According to the N.Y.Times: "Ruth caught one of Johnson's bullet flings on the end of his bat and shot the ball against the facade of the upper deck in right field and almost tore away part of the roof".

July 15, 1920: Tied his own record of 29 home runs.

July 19, 1920: Broke his own record with #30 in the second game of a double-header. He hit #31 in that same game, and the next day hit another. In those two games he got out only once. The rest of the time he either walked or hit a home run.

August 16, 1920 Babe was in the outfield when Mays hit Chapman.

Last Weekend of Season - Babe hit #50 in the first game of a double-header. He hit #51 in the second game of the double-header and hit two more home runs a couple days later. In the final game of the season he hit #54.

Babe immediately found his stride in New York. Starting out at the Polo Grounds, Ruth blasted 54 homeruns during the 1920 season, nearly doubling his own major league record. Ruth owned the Polo Grounds; His first 16 Polo Grounds homers in 1920 all went into the upper deck, or over the roof. Babe’s 26 game hitting streak came in 1920. It lasted from June 26 and ended in the second game of a double header on July 13. His success continued into the following season.

1921 (Compiled from the Baseball Fever Website, Babe Ruth thread)

April 17, 1920: Babe blasts his first homer of the year to beat the Athletics 2-1. He actually had to hit three home runs in this AB to receive his first. The first two balls he hit were home runs that curved just foul down the right field line.

April 25, 1920: Ruth punished the great Walter Johnson again; his fifth and last home run in the month of April came at home against the Senators star.

May 7, 1920: Ruth hits longest homerun ever at Griffith Stadium. Ex-President Woodrow Wilson attended his first baseball game since 1916. On this day in Washington, he witnessed Walter Johnson serve up home run number eight to Ruth. Reporters agreed that it was the longest ball ever hit in Griffith Stadium.

May 25, 1920: Ruth hits home #13 in St. Louis and was the longest ever hit there. Its estimated distance was 550 feet.

May 29, 1920: Babe hits number fourteen completely out of the Polo Grounds.

June 13, 1920: Miller Huggins lets Babe Ruth pitch, struck out Ty Cobb, and hit homeruns #20 & #21.

July 31, 1920: Hit a dinger at the Polo Grounds, which landed on top of the roof. The mid-July home run dry-spell left him only a day ahead of his 1920 pace.

August 8, 1920: Babe hammers home runs number forty and forty-one. He needed fourteen more dingers in fifty-four games to break his record set in 1920.

August 17, 1920: Babe smashes a home run completely out of Comiskey Park.

August 19, 1920: Babe crushes another home run completely out of Comiskey Park.

September 9, 1920: Home run number fifty-four against the Athletics at Shibe Park. It was the longest home run ever seen in Shibe.

September 11, 1920: Forty thousand jammed into the Polo Grounds and the press claimed that sixty thousand fans were turned away. Those fans that were turned away missed out on Babe's fifty-sixth home run.

October 2, 1920: Number fifty-nine came at home against the Red Sox on the last day of the season. It was a three run shot that helped give the Yanks a 7-6 win. During the 1920 & 1921 seasons, Ruth hit some of the biggest homeruns of his fabled career. It may not have been coincidence that he ordered some of the biggest bats of his career during this same timeframe.

Regarding the evaluation process, the model number, length, and weight specifications have been confirmed by the manufacturer’s ordering records as being ordered by the player during the referenced labeling period.

Manufacturer: Hillerich & Bradsby. Babe Ruth signed an exclusive signature model contract with H&B on July 9th, 1918. The company supplied him with professional model bats throughout his major league career which ended in 1935.

Model

Model Number R2: Per the designations assigned to all professional model bats by H&B, this bat is referenced in Babe Ruth's Louisville Slugger personal bat records as the R2 model. The R stood for the second player to request a new model bat whose last name ended with that initial. This bat is referenced in the factory records as His Model #1, a.k.a. small or Old Ruth round end (Model R2). The H&B records verify this as the main model being ordered until the 1924 season.

Dating

Exact dating 1920-21: (extracted from the broad 1918-21 centerbrand dating) MEARS has examined 10 additional 1918-21 era Babe Ruth Louisville Slugger 1st version signature model bats. By accessing our database, we are able to compare the barrel signature to the previous archived examples. This allows us the ability to compare and identify this examined bat as a first version example of the facsimile Ruth signature produced within the 1918-21 time span. Factory records listing weights narrowed the dating even further to the 1920-21 era.

Examples examined are:

1918-21 MEARS #251485 - 1st version barrel signature

1918-21 MEARS #251924 - 1st version barrel signature

1918-21 MEARS #258501 - 1st version barrel signature

1918-21 MEARS #300537 - 1st version barrel signature

1918-21 MEARS #301537 - 1st version barrel signature

1918-21 MEARS #302451 - 1st version barrel signature

1918-21 MEARS #303201 - 1st version barrel signature

1918-21 MEARS #303582 - 1st version barrel signature

1918-21 MEARS #303627 - 1st version barrel signature

1918-21 MEARS #303964 - 1st version barrel signature

The comparison to the above examples allowed us to verify a consistency as two the 1918-21 version of the centerbrand and the style and application of the 1st contract version of the George Babe Ruth barrel stamping. Our careful examination reveals this examined model compared quite favorably to the above referenced examples.

To further narrow down the dating to the 1920-21 era, the following information was provided by the authenticators at PSA/DNA. Through a review of Ruth’s Professional Bat Ordering Records (PBOR), on file at Louisville Slugger Incorporated reveals that within the July 1918 through 1921 labeling period, the heaviest bats of Ruth’s career are ordered between July 24th, 1920 and March 22, 1922.

Ordered weights are between 43 and 51 ounces. In 1920 Ruth has 4 orders calling for bats weighing 43 to 47 ounces. He has only one order of bats for the entire 1921 season and this order does not specify weights. We therefore refer to the prior order weighing 43 to 47 ounces. We can dismiss the 1922 order for 42 to 51 ounce bats because this order would have Ruth’s large signature (2nd version).

Going a step further, a prominent feature of the bat is its finish. Instead of the dark brown finish seen on most bats from the era, the bat has no lacquer whatsoever. The wood has a softer matte finish the color of which is best described as coffee. Again referring to Ruth’s PBOR, we see that the July 24th, 1920 order specifies that the bats be ‘Bone Rubbed’. This process involved the actual rubbing of a cow bone over the surface of the bat to tighten or harden the wood, prior to the bats being shipped to Ruth. The surviving records from 1920 along with the finish aid in the 1920 bat dating attribution.

In summary, the 1920-21 dating was determined by a combination of the examination and presence of the first version of the barrel stamping (1918-21), recorded weight from 1920-22, and finish (1920). The intersection of these three data points creates the 1920-21 era used for the dating of this bat.

Length

Length 35 ¾” inches: Measuring 35 ¾”, this bat is consistent with regards to length of several other examples examined by MEARS. Available H&B factory records do not record a complete list of specific lengths for bats during 1918-1921, but starting in 1920, the Louisville Slugger records do indicate Ruth ordered bats measuring at 36" throughout 1922 (Malta Book).

Therefore, this bat is consistent with production information with respects to length for bats ordered by Babe Ruth during the 1920-21 era. In addition to the fact this bat's length (35 3/4") is consistent with available H&B production information, this bat compares quite favorably to additional Babe Ruth examined bats. Included are:

MEARS #251485, 1918-21, 35 ¾", 1st version signature

MEARS #258501, 1918-21, 35 ¾", 1st version signature

MEARS #300537, 1918-21, 35 ¾", 1st version signature

MEARS #303201, 1918-21, 35 ¾", 1st version signature MEARS #303953, 1918-21, 35 ¾", 1st version signature

In sum, this bats length (35 3/4") is consistent with available H&B production information and a comparison to additional MEARS examined bats with the similar label period.

Weigh 44.6 ounces: In sum as this point was discussed to verify the dating, per the PBOR records for Babe Ruth, he requested bats weighing 43-47 ounces. At its current weight, this bat falls within the documented weight ranges per the H&B available Ruth records. This is the heaviest bat from the era examined by MEARS.

Wood Ash: Wood: This bat is manufactured from high-grade evenly proportioned medium grain wood.

Finish: Standard and bone rubbed

Game Use & Characteristics

Description: Hillerich & Bradsby model R2 George “Babe” Ruth professional model bat is un-cracked and exhibits evidence of outstanding heavy use. Very slight checking (grain swelling) from repeated ball contact is visible on the left barrel. Many ball marks are visible on the left barrel. The left barrel contact has also been scored approximately 11 inches by 2 inches. Cleat marks are visible on the back barrel.

Player Characteristics: The notable feature of the subject bat is the heavily scored left barrel contact area above Ruth’s facsimile signature. Ruth was a label down hitter causing the ball to contact the left barrel. Ruth’s label down grip has been photo documented in many pictures of Ruth at the plate in the 1920’s and 1930’s. From time to time Ruth would select his favorite bats and score the left barrel to provide lift to the ball after it was struck. An example of scoring can be found on the face of golf clubs. A Ruth bat with barrel scoring is considered to have impeccable provenance as to its game use by Ruth and its stature as one of his favorite bats. This fact is exemplified by the presence of barrel scoring on the Ruth bat on display at the Louisville Slugger Museum. That bat was used by Ruth in 1927-1928 and has 21 home run notches carved around the center brand.

The Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York has two scored bats in their collection, and several examples are in our PSA/DNA database. PSA/DNA Certification Numbers are:

B96983 – Dated 1927 – Graded GU 10

C86077 – Dated 1934 – Graded GU 10

B96783 – Dated 1932 - Graded GU 10

Scoring

The practice is documented in the book, “A Crack of the Bat by Bob Hill”. On page 96, Hill goes on to write,

“To prevent checking, many of the players in the early days would “bone” their bats, rub a hard object, even bones, against them to tighten up the grain. Babe Ruth, as was the custom of the day, then would rub it in with an empty pop bottle…” This served as an alternate to a steer bone.

Additionally, on page 119 of the book titled, "The Game That Ruth Built, The Babe... by Lawrence S. Ritter and Mark Rucker, Total Sports New York, 1997", there is a image of Ruth as a Yankee in the process of boning his bat with what looks to be a steer leg.

Per the authenticator at PSA/DNA:”Boning bats was very popular and was executed by many players and equipment managers. The residue for the bone rubbing produced the matte finish that is displayed on the subject bat. Therefore, we can pin point the bat to the July 24th, 1920 order and place it with Ruth during his first season with the New York Yankees.

When considering a single order for Ruth in 1921, and the outstanding heavy use displayed, it is very likely the subject bat was used by Ruth extensively, as his main and favorite bat during the 1920 and 1921 seasons in which he hit 113 home runs, several of which, no doubt, were struck with the subject bat.”

Per the conclusion of PSA/DNA, the subject bat came to the plate accompanied by the great Babe Ruth, often, during the 1920 and 1921 seasons. The character displayed by the barrel scoring and significant amount of ball marks in the scored area convey the importance of this favorite bat to the player. We have had the pleasure of authenticating several bats that date to this period of Ruth’s career but none have been more favored by Ruth than this one. We believe this bat pays homage to the game’s greatest player during the two most significant years in Ruth’s career and baseball’s history.

PSA/DNA Conclusion: After a thorough examination of this George “Babe” Ruth professional model bat and its player use characteristics, it is our opinion the bat is authentic, and was game used by Ruth during the referenced labeling period of 1920-1921. The bat exhibits outstanding heavy use and possesses identifiable player use characteristics. We have assigned the bat a grade of: PSA/DNA GU 10

MEARS A10: 5 base points were signed for the bat matching weight, length, and model for Babe Ruth during the 1920-21 era. 3 points were assigned for the bat having heavy game use. 2 points were assigned for player specific traits which included a 40+ ounce order, 36” length, and the scored hitting surface and bone rubbed finish. LOA Troy R. Kinunen (A0583)
Bidding
Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $415,000
Final prices include buyers premium.: $498,000
Number Bids: 1
Auction closed on Sunday, December 30, 2012.
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